Legarda faces env’t challenges with Antique congressional run

Undated photos show projects being undertaken by the Semirara Mining and Power Corporation in Semirara Island. The Consunji-owned SMPC has exclusive rights to explore, extract and develop the largest coal mine in the country. The mine site is located in Semirara Island in Antique province.

PANDAN, Antique – The Save Antique Movement has urged lone district of Antique congressional candidate Loren Legarda to address the province’s environmental concerns.

Bong Sanchez, representing the movement said they have been appealing to the incumbent senator to place the environmental preservation of Antique province as one of her priority platforms.

Sanchez, in an interview, said they are particularly concerned about the plan of the Semirara Mining and Power Corporation (SMPC) to restore its Panian coal open pit. SMPC is based in Caluya, Antique.

The Panian mine, operated by Semirara Mining and Power Corp., is an “open cut” operation on 55 sq. km. of Semirara Island, Antique.

“It could be recalled that in February 2013, a mine pit collapse left five workers dead. Mining operations were then suspended for two months,” he said.

“Last July 17, 2015 another landslide incident occurred at the site, burying alive nine workers. Mining operations at the site were again suspended by the DOE (Department of Energy) and DENR-EMB (Department of Environment and Natural Resources-Environmental Management Bureau) for a while as audit of said mining area was in progress,” he added.

EMB director Jonathan Bulos later lifted the suspension order and declared the SMPC compliant to its Environmental Compliance Certificate (ECC). Sanchez claims the results of the review were released without the approval of the office of the DENR secretary as there was a pending request for re-audit by the Save Antique Movement.

He added that a re-audit was scheduled but was postponed several times until former secretary Gina Lopez was replaced by Roy Cimatu as DENR chief.

“The Save Antique Movement claims that SMPC reclaimed about 14 kilometers the ocean extending to Nagubat Island, which covered hundreds of mangroves, killed thousands of coral reefs and a wide area of sea grasses. The reclamation area was made of mine tailings from the Panian Pit that were dumped into the sea, which the company claims is just a barrier,” Sanchez added.

Earlier, SMPC said it hoped to fill the Southern Panian pit by 2020. As of June, filling of its in-pit had exceeded the target for the year by more than 70 percent.

“Southern Panian would no longer look like a pit when covered. But [their] first open pit, the Unong Pit, was abandoned, [letting] sea water seep in. [This has now] become a big body of water on the island that [a search on] Google [Maps] names as Unong Lake. The said pit was never restored and returned to its somewhat original form,” Sanchez said.

In response, Legarda who is considered an environment champion said that she will coordinate with the different government agencies especially with DENR secretary Roy Cimatu.

Cimatu’s wife is said to be a resident of Antique.

“What I am going to do is to provide alternative livelihood to the residents of Antique which is seaweed farming. If this materializes, the residents would lessen their dependence [on] coal mining,” Legarda said./PN


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